New County Courthouse adds modern touch to Gunnison heritage

“Such a great mixture of history and new tech…”

By Adam Broderick

The original Gunnison County Courthouse, built in 1881, was demolished last year and a new and improved courthouse has been open for business since June 1.

Exterior of the new Gunnison County Courthouse.   photo by Adam Broderick
Exterior of the new Gunnison County Courthouse. photo by Adam Broderick

Both the exterior and interior designs have a fresh new feel, a modern twist for Gunnison, and better represent the times and forward, sustainable thinking. A new layout separates the building to sides—public departments on the county side, judicial on the district side—and keeps business moving smoothly throughout. Offices were temporarily relocated during construction but all personnel are now in the new building and are raving about its modern design and comfortable work environment.

Commissioner Jonathan Houck says the rebuild’s underlying goals have been met. “I feel it is easy for the public to access the departments and their needs on the county side and happy to see we are now meeting the safety and modern judicial needs for the courts side,” Houck said. “This is the public’s building and I feel we are going to be able to do the public’s work in an even more efficient and professional manner due to the upgrades and technologies built into this project.”

It had been argued for years that the rebuild was necessary to address pressing security flaws and replace failing systems of the old building, plus adhere to modern-day building codes. The new building adds space to the courtroom, staff offices and Board of County Commissioners meeting room, plus heightens security measures with amenities like one-way mirror courtroom viewing windows and private ingress/egress for suspects and victims (to enhance safety of public and employees). Accessibility was also installed to meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Houck said he is happy that a local craftsman was able to repurpose timbers from the original 1881 building into the boardroom table and used the trusses and bricks from 1881 in the new Board of County Commissioners meeting room. “When the public comes to meet with us it is a reminder of where we came from and the new modern elements remind us where we are going,” he said. “This new facility will last us long into our future.”

The new building may look and feel modern, but certainly does not lack history or character. Katherine Haase, assistant to the county manager, says her department is thrilled to be providing services to the public via a safe, beautiful, comfortable and intelligently designed building. She is also proud of the historical elements that were saved and incorporated into the new building.

“Over 130 years ago, citizens of this county put those bricks and trusses in place. Those people are gone now, but I can’t help but feel as though they would be proud to see that their labors are still benefitting our community,” Haase said. “Sometimes I find myself touching those old bricks, and I wonder, how many people touched this brick before me, what were their lives like, and what other contributions did they make to our valley during their lifetimes? How many more of us will add our fingerprints and our stories to those old bricks over the decades to come?”

Commissioner Paula Swenson says it has always been a joy going to work as a commissioner, but the new digs make it exceptionally nice. She loves the new building, especially how even the temperature stays. “In the old building we would have been shivering during rainy days and sweltering now! With the great geothermal system, it is a nice temp at all times—and saving us on the bills!”

The new building is much more energy-efficient than the old. According to county manager Matthew Birnie, “A new geothermal heating system that cost $325,000 uses 40 wells that reach 300 feet deep, and in 12 to 15 years the cost will be paid back and heating and cooling will then be free (with the exception of running circulation pumps).”

Swenson says there have been no real unexpected issues since construction was completed, but they forgot a clock in the BOCC meeting room and are still a little leery of the technology. She said there have been issues with the phone system and the projection screen in the commissioners’ room. They have had someone call in for a meeting but didn’t have the correct number, and couldn’t project the process for a public hearing on the screen. “Teaching an old dog new tricks,” she called it. Other than that, “It is such a great mixture of history and new tech,” Swenson said. “I wish Fred Field could have seen this. He was a great mentor to me.”

Be sure to check out the new courthouse in Gunnison when you get a chance. Or, the next time your probation officer is running late for a meeting, simply step outside the office and walk the halls, making sure to soak in all the fresh air and fresh ideas.

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